Imagine getting off an aeroplane sweating with paranoia, knowing you could be being followed or that somewhere in the airport someone is waiting to get you.
As you walk through the building, your eyes nervously darting around looking for something or anything out of the ordinary you begin to relax. They’re not there.
All of a sudden you hear the quick thud of feet on the carpet and you spin round as an old rabbi barrels towards you, his eyes filled with a steely resolve, a grin playing about his lips.
You turn to escape but you realise it’s too late. You’ve been caught and it’ll all be over soon. The Rabbi gets closer, his hand outstretched and with deadly finality, he pokes you in the chest and laughs in delight: ‘Tag, you’re it!’
It’s strange and creepy enough to be the plot the plot of a Hollywood movie and that’s because it is, specifically the upcoming comedy Tag.
Tag, starring Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress, Jon Hamm, and Jeremy Renner, tells the hilarious story of a group of friends who’ve been playing tag once a month for over two decades.
But did you know that the story of Tag, as ridiculous as it sounds, is actually based on an incredible real-life story of a group of friends who’ve been playing a game of tag for the best part of three decades?
Earlier this month we were lucky enough to speak to one of the gang, Mike Konesky, who explained to us what life’s like for someone who’s been playing tag for 28 years.
Mike began by telling us how the game started, or at least how he remembered it started, explaining he and his friends Bill Akers, Patrick Schultheis, Sean Raftis and a couple of other guys used to play tag during high school.
But like all of us when they went to college real life got in the way, that is until a school reunion where over a few beers the gang reminisced over the games they used to play.
They decided, that despite living in different states and cities they’d resurrect their old game and over yet more beers they penned the rules of their ambitious game.
Mike explained the rules to me:
There are a couple of main rules for sure. Number one, no tag backs that’s a massive violation. We play one month every year in February and whoever was it at the end of last years game starts as ‘it’ the next year.
We also implemented the rule that if someone asks you if you are it you have to be honest and admit it because people are spending money or taking flight so it requires a degree of honesty so people aren’t wasting their time.
Other than deliberately lying though anything’s fair game, including getting someone in an area you know they can’t escape from or even disguising yourself as another person.
In fact, that imaginary scenario I wrote about being chased through the airport by a Rabbi is something that actually happened to Mike one year.
He told UNILAD:
I got off an aeroplane when it landed at an airport and somehow one of my friends knew I was there and had dressed as an old Jewish Rabbi with a walker.
See I knew it was February so in my head, I was looking out but I didn’t recognise him when I heard the walker drop. I turned around and saw him running at me and I just ran but he ended up getting me.
Of course, playing a decades-long game of tag is a pretty difficult thing to explain to friends and family, Mike even joked to me that the whole thing was a bit embarrassing especially when you consider some of the work these guys do.
It’s embarrassing honestly [laughing]. You know, we are grown men with professional jobs. You know one of us is a school teacher, the other’s a Catholic priest…
I don’t think any of us have ever just volunteered the fact that we play ‘tag’ because that conjures images of a gang of full-grown men going to the park and playing and that’s not what we do.
That said though he explained that most people when they hear about the group’s game are actually pretty supportive or think it’s a cool thing to do.
Mike explained that actually a lot of people have a tradition they keep with their family and friends whether it be making a trip each year or agreeing to meet up and that their game is no different.
By his own admission though a trip away would be a lot less stressful than a month-long game of tag with honour on the line, and Mike says the gang can get a bit jittery around February.
The paranoia level definitely rises, at the start of the month, you know who’s it and you know its coming but you don’t know what people are planning unless you’re the person who got them and you know you’re safe.
But it’s actually towards the end of the month that the paranoia really starts to rise because you don’t want to be ‘it’ at the end of the month because otherwise, it’s eleven months of shame and torture.
The gang have good reason to be paranoid though with the guys being perfectly willing to travel thousands of miles to get each other if they have to and Mike told me there’s no such thing as sacred ground.
Even when Patrick Schultheis’ father died and the funeral was planned for February the game continued although Mike admitted there was a bit of debate before they decided Patrick’s dad would have found it funny.
There’s been a lot of inappropriateness over the years. When Patrick’s father died, five years ago I think, he knew we did this [played tag] and laughed about it and loved it, he thought it was a great thing and mentioned he wished he’d done something similar with his friends.
Anyway we were all at the funeral and it was in February, and there was some debate over whether we should tag Patrick at his dad’s funeral and we decided it would be a cool thing to do and we pictured Patrick’s dad smiling so we did.
Mike admitted to me that he’s even broken into a friend’s house in the dead of night to get the drop on someone in the past although he recognises in hindsight this probably wasn’t the smartest thing he’s ever done.
So when does Mike think the game will end? Well not for a long time, he said. ‘It’ll end when we’re all dead’, he adds, before joking they’re going to have to work out what happens if you’re ‘it’ and you die.
Tag is in cinemas June 29.
More of a concept than a journalist, Tom Percival was forged in the bowels of Salford University from which he emerged grasping a Masters in journalism.
Since then his rise has been described by himself as ‘meteoric’ rising to the esteemed rank of Social Editor at UNILAD as well as working at the BBC, Manchester Evening News, and ITV.
He credits his success to three core techniques, name repetition, personality mirroring, and never breaking off a handshake.